Glass Plate Negatives from Rynek 4 | Exhibition
In 2010, a collection of 2700 mysterious glass plate negatives was discovered in the building at Rynek 4 in the course of architectural works. The photographs, taken between 1914 and 1939 are a time machine that takes us back to the past and show the lives of the residents of Lublin and nearby towns. You can view selected photos at an outdoor exhibition in the Hartwig Alley.
When: June 2020
Where: The Hartwig Alley, outdoor gallery on the stairs
In 2010, over 2700 glass plate negatives in sizes ranging from 6×9 cm to 13×18 cm were discovered in the house at Rynek 4 in the Old Town. This building is currently home to the restaurant Trybunalska City Pub. The photographs were taken in the years 1914-1939. The collection was recovered in the course of cleaning and architectural works that preceded the renovation of the building. In 2012, the owners of the house handed over the collection for a 10-year deposit to the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre.
The negatives portray people, individuals and groups, usually indoors or in settings that are difficult to pinpoint. However, some places have been identified, for instance the house at Rynek 4 (shown in 75 photos from the collection) or the Saxon Garden.
The range of the presented subjects is very wide: from children to adults, men and women. They usually stand or sit and carry characteristic objects, such as newspapers or lapel pins. Other photos in the collection show people at work: individuals or groups representing certain professions. Most of them are tailors, but there are also clerks at their desks. Many of the portraits show soldiers; some of these pictures were taken in a hospital.
Yet another set of photos in the collection are family photographs documenting social functions and major events in their lives. These pictures were taken both inside apartments as well as outdoors, for instance in front of country cottages. Some of the identified group photos feature the football section of the Jewish sports club “Morgensztern”, the teachers and students of the Jewish school of the Koach Society in Lublin, and the firemen from Trzciniec and Wola Sernicka.
Although people are the main theme of the collection, the photographer also captured an important event in Lublin’s history, namely the opening of the Yeshiva in 1930. The documentation of this event includes 30 photos. This fact suggests that the photographer was of Jewish origin.
Some of the most interesting documents are pictures taken probably in the New Jewish Cemetery in Lublin and one in the cemetery in the Wieniawa district. The photos show gravestones, in some cases surrounded by people. All the names from the gravestones have been read, and they include: Maria Arnsztajnowa née Peretz (Franciszka Arnsztajnowa’s mother-in-law of Franciszka Arnsztajnowa), Bronisława Gerensztajnowa née Logwińska, Sara Fryda Horn, Chaim Israel Fridman, tzadik Magid Admor Jaakow Ari, Rachela Blum, Batszewa, the daughter of Aszer Zelig Horowitz, brother of tzadik Admor the Seer of Lublin, Riwka Mitzenmacher, Mosze Breber, Dow Bromels, Rachela Lea Herszenwald, Jehoszua Falik, Chaim Szlomo Tzwi, Risza Rozenbojm. There are 36 photographs showing gravestones. The photos also include the documentation of Elkan Goldberg’s funeral procession.
The few inscriptions that accompany some of the pictures have allowed us to determine that Lublin was not the only place where the pictures were taken. For instance, several images are signed Nowodwór or Nałęczów. Inscriptions with locations also appear in commemorative photos presenting groups of people in the villages of Wola Sernicka and Trzciniec. A dozen or so photographs feature soldiers in the District Hospital no 2 in Chełm, which is identified by the stamp visible on their white coats. One of the photos documenting field works shows the church in Niemce in the background.
Many photographs include the handwritten initial of the first name along with the surname, which are probably the names of individuals featured in the images: S. Elsenstark, Anna Koniger, I. Soberbaum, S. Zyserman, A. Lederfarb, R. Szajtman, J. Feldman, R. Hepsztejn, R. Wajsman, Jan Borowski, Otwinowska, Melzak, Bilot (or Bilet), Maciej Szirociński, Ch. Frajldlich, Z. Urman, Akerman. One surname – Mincman – appears twice.
The pictures also show field works (digging), road and bridge construction works, races on the river, a religious ceremony at a church. In some cases, you can see vehicles: a fire engine, a rack wagon, a cart, a grader, a steam engine.
Immediately after the collection was given to the Grodzka Gate Centre and published on their website, the Centre was contacted by people who recognised their relatives and friends in the pictures. The identified photographs were taken between 1934 and 1939 near Lubartów.
In 2015, during a query conducted by Jakub Chmielewski for the project “Lublin. 43 thousand”, it was possible to determine with a high degree of probability that the photographer was Abram Zylberberg. His name appears on the list of residents of the Rynek 4 house from 1940.
The recovered plates are gelatin plate negatives ( a dry plate developed by Maddox in 1871), mostly sizes 9×12, 10×15 and 13×18 cm, produced by Agfa and Alfa (a Bydgoszcz-based company). The negatives show traces of retouching done with a pencil on the emulsion side and of local colouring done with neo-coccine, a strong, transparent red dye for enhancing contrast or lightening the image on the negative. The negatives prepared by the author of the collection are placed in a film cassette in the darkroom, and then they can be transported and exposed without the need for an open air laboratory.
The deposited negatives also included plates that were destroyed, broken, with damaged emulsion. They were cleaned and put together. Around 160 negatives were recovered as a result.
Text: Joanna Zętar, Marcin Sudziński, Karolina Kryczka-Kowalska